Shocking: Russia Caught “Meddling” It Its Own Parliamentary Elections

Hysteria about Russia, fueled by Hillary Clinton’s drive to divert blame for her loss to Donald Trump, continues to spread. The scare about Russian Facebook ads and Twitter accounts looks ridiculous when the facts are seriously analyzed. We are repeatedly seeing hysterical headlines, sometimes claiming to contain the smoking gun, only to quickly find that the initial report was incorrect. A column at Bloomberg News looked at some recent examples, starting with the report that money was sent by Russia to embassies with the indication, “to finance election campaign of 2016.” To some that was seen as proof that Russia rigged the 2016 election. The more plausible response:

The Trump-Russia story is becoming surreal. It’s worth pausing for a minute and applying a tool that’s getting rusty from disuse — Occam’s razor, and specifically Isaac Newton’s take on it: “We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.”

Here’s a simple example. BuzzFeed on Tuesday came out with a story about the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation checking into 60 transfers sent by the Russian Foreign Ministry to embassies around the world with a note that the money was meant “to finance election campaign of 2016.” Russia says that meant the Russian parliamentary election that took place in September 2016, not the U.S. presidential election. The voting for that election was organized in 147 countries; some 1.9 million Russian expatriates could come to hundreds of diplomatic missions to cast their votes, though only some 216,000 ended up doing so.

This is an obvious, simple explanation for the transfers. If U.S. election interference was intended with the funds, would a Russian government agency openly transfer money to “finance” it and label it as such? Why would the Foreign Ministry transfer money for a U.S. election meddling effort to dozens of diplomatic missions far from U.S. shores? The transfers arrived in early August, just in time to organize the polling stations for the Sept. 18 Russian election. But BuzzFeed pumped up the drama: “Just as the U.S. presidential election was entering its final, heated phase, the Russian foreign ministry sent nearly $30,000 to its embassy in Washington.” After the story ran, the Russian Foreign Ministry provided the obvious explanation; BuzzFeed added it to the piece without altering its ominous tone.

So the latest smoking gun re Russia showed that Russia was “meddling” in the Russian parliamentary elections.

The same column looked at the exchange of email between Donald Trump, Jr. and Wikileaks, which fueled attacks on Wikileaks after one of the messages was  edited in a way that seems to play into the Clinton attacks that Wikileaks aligned with Russia. Their bogus claims tying Wikileaks to Russia leads to the false claims that Donald Trump, Jr. communicating with Wikileaks is an act of collusion with Russia.

The actual text of the exchange looks more like Wikileaks was trying to entice Donald Trump, Jr. into releasing his father’s tax returns by acting as if Wikileaks was trying to help Trump. It certainly would have made no sense for Wikileaks to have acted neutral or pro-Clinton in such negotiations. This is also consistent with Assange’s statements that he regretted that his releases of information on the 2016 presidential candidates were limited to Clinton, but Trump did not have a government record to expose. Releasing Trump’s tax returns would have certainly provided such desired balance. Unfortunately Donald Trump, Jr., who has shown a willingness to collude with not only Wikileaks but with Russia, did not fall for this. Hopefully Trump’s tax returns will be released instead as part of Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Of course Assange very likely did have a strong objection to Clinton considering how her record of both extreme hawkishness and extreme hostility towards government transparency conflicted with two of Assange’s priorities. He might have also been influence by the widely reported, but never verified, claims that Clinton had advocated killing Assange in a drone strike.

The Matrix made this offer which is relevant to current politics, even if the context is different: “You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

The number of people attacking backers of transparency such as Wikileaks and Edward Snowden again this week (including many faux-liberal Democrats) shows that far too many Americans (again including many faux-liberal Democrats) will take the blue pill over the red pill every chance they have.

Today’s Deals: Leak Of The Month Club & Free Parody From The White House

Plans like the Book of the Month Club have become near obsolete with the ease of on line purchasing. From time to time offers such as a wine of the month club do come in handy when unable to decide upon a gift. Now we have a new variety for the modern era–the leak of month club. The Hill reports that hackers have really made this available:

A group of suspected National Security Agency (NSA) leakers known as the ShadowBrokers on Tuesday announced more details of its monthly subscription service to provide remaining documents from its NSA cache.

The group has been releasing files that appear to have been pilfered from the NSA in 2013 since last summer — most notably releasing a suite of Windows hacking tools that were subsequently used in the WannaCry ransomware that induced a global panic earlier this month.

The ShadowBrokers on Tuesday posted instructions on how to join a “Wine of the Month” club for new NSA leaks. In the post, the group said interested parties should send 100 ZCash coins — a digital currency akin to bitcoin — to sign up for the service. Enrollment will begin June 1 and end June 30.

In case you are interested in ordering, ZCash coins are worth over $230, making the cost of this over $23,000. Want to know what you will get for this:

Q: What is going to be in the next dump?

TheShadowBrokers is not deciding yet. Something of value to someone. See theshadowbrokers’ previous posts… Peoples is seeing what happenings when theshadowbrokers is showing theshadowbrokers’ first. This is being wrong question. Question to be asking ‘Can my organization afford not to be first to get access to theshadowbrokers dumps?’

At that price, yes many organizations will decide they can better afford to not be the first.

Besides, there are so any free things you can get. There’s always Wikileaks or Ed Snowden for government secrets. If you want humor, there are the White House releases. The Fix mocks this one as sounding more like a Saturday Night Live parody:

President Trump has a magnetic personality and exudes positive energy, which is infectious to those around him. He has an unparalleled ability to communicate with people, whether he is speaking to a room of three or an arena of 30,000. He has built great relationships throughout his life and treats everyone with respect. He is brilliant with a great sense of humor … and an amazing ability to make people feel special and aspire to be more than even they thought possible.

I imagine that the set of Republican opponents he destroyed during the primaries, such as low energy Jeb Bush, all appreciated Donald Trump’s great sense of humor and felt special. As Slate commented, “What a set of things to say about a president who’s consistently miserable, sarcastic, and angry!” But his tweets are always free.

Alternative Facts, George Orwell, And Doctor Who

The election of Donald Trump appears to be stimulating reading along with protests. The Hill reports a surge in sale of George Orwell’s novel 1984 after Kellyanne Conway said that the White House press secretary gave “alternative facts” after he made false statements about the crowd size at the inauguration. Alternative facts sounds alarmingly like the newspeak and doublethink of 1984.  1984 moved up to the sixth best selling book on Amazon on Tuesday. Sales of 1984 also surged in 2013 in response to the revelations from Edward Snowden regarding NSA surveillance.

1984 is probably the most famous literary criticism of the techniques used by authoritarian regimes, but other sources have also been discussed following the inauguration of Donald Trump. Yesterday I posted about two novels, The Plot Against America by Philip Roth and It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis. Both novels involved an alternative history in which populist politicians promising to  make America great defeated FDR and established dictatorships.

Doctor Who fans have been giving the show credit for predicting this forty hears ago in an episode in which the Doctor, then played by Tom Baker, said, “You know, the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don’t alter their views to fit the facts. They alter the facts to fit their views.”

Boing Boing used the format of Little Golden Books to make the above mock cover for The Little Golden Book of Alternate Facts. The cover presents all you really need to know as to what alternate facts really are.

Seth Meyers compared Kellyanne Coneway’s statement to a Jedi novice:  “Kellyanne Conway is like someone trying to do the Jedi mind trick after only a week of Jedi training. ‘These are not the droids you’re looking for.’ ‘Yeah, they are, those are my droids.’ ‘No, these are alternative robots.'”

I suspect that the Trump administration might be associated with this meme forever. After he dies, Donald Trump’s tombstone might read: “Alternative Fact: He Was A Really Great President.”

NSA Surveillance Data To Become Available To More Agencies

While civil liberties advocates worry about the incoming Trump administration, with some urging the Obama administration to curtail surveillance prior to Trump’s inauguration, The New York Times report that instead the NSA is being given increased latitude to share intercepted communications:

In its final days, the Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.

The new rules significantly relax longstanding limits on what the N.S.A. may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operations, which are largely unregulated by American wiretapping laws. These include collecting satellite transmissions, phone calls and emails that cross network switches abroad, and messages between people abroad that cross domestic network switches.

The change means that far more officials will be searching through raw data. Essentially, the government is reducing the risk that the N.S.A. will fail to recognize that a piece of information would be valuable to another agency, but increasing the risk that officials will see private information about innocent people.

The American Civil Liberties Union did not accept the Obama administration’s justification for this change:

…Patrick Toomey, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, called the move an erosion of rules intended to protect the privacy of Americans when their messages are caught by the N.S.A.’s powerful global collection methods. He noted that domestic internet data was often routed or stored abroad, where it may get vacuumed up without court oversight.

“Rather than dramatically expanding government access to so much personal data, we need much stronger rules to protect the privacy of Americans,” Mr. Toomey said. “Seventeen different government agencies shouldn’t be rooting through Americans’ emails with family members, friends and colleagues, all without ever obtaining a warrant.”

Techdirt comments that “All of this means the NSA is now officially a domestic surveillance agency, even if a majority of its exploration of Americans’ data/communications is being done by proxy.”

The Verge adds:

The change also raises unavoidable privacy concerns. While the relevant data is collected overseas, it inevitably includes phone calls, emails, and other messages between US citizens. Without any form of filtering, the raw data includes everything that passed through a given network switch, without any form of reasonable suspicion or probable cause.

The new rule bears on all data collected under Executive Order 12333, which many believe to be responsible for the bulk of the NSA’s collection efforts. Issued by President Reagan, the order did not require a congressional vote, and has been subject to only minimal oversight by the legislature. Collection efforts under the order are not subject to court approval, as long as they occur outside the United States.

Presumably this is one executive order from Obama which Donald Trump will not reverse.

While I doubt he will take me up on this suggestion, as Obama is a centrist who often tries to please both sides, he should at least balance this by doing the right thing before leaving office and pardon Edward Snowden, who we have to thank for letting the American people know about the existence of this surveillance, and how the NSA had been breaking the law.

Julian Assange On The Election Of Donald Trump And Defeat Of Hillary Clinton

Julian Assange and Wikileaks had a significant impact on the Democratic Party. The revelations in the leaked email led to the removal of Debby Wasserman Schultz as chairperson of the Democratic National Committee and very likely had an effect on the results of the general election. La Republica interviewed Assange. This is what he had to say about the United States election:

WikiLeaks published documents on Hillary Clinton and the US Democrats. How do you reply to those who accuse you of having helped to elect Mr. Trump?
“What is the allegation here exactly? We published what the Democratic National Committee, John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, and Hillary Clinton herself were saying about their own campaign, which the American people read and were very interested to read, and assessed the elements and characters, and then they made a decision. That decision was based on Hillary Clinton’s own words, her campaign manager’s own words. That’s democracy”.

Do you agree with those who say that it was a hit job, because you hit Hillary Clinton when she was most vulnerable, during the final weeks of her campaign?
“No, we have been publishing about Hillary Clinton for many years, because of her position as Secretary of State. We have been publishing her cables since 2010 and her emails also. We are domain experts on Clinton and her post 2008 role in government. This is why it is natural for sources who have information on Hillary Clinton to come to us. They know we will understand its significance”.

So Clinton is gone, has WikiLeaks won?
“We were pleased to see how much of the American public interacted with the material we published. That interaction was on both sides of politics, including those to the left of Hillary Clinton those who supported Bernie Sanders, who were able to see the structure of power within the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and how the Clintons had placed Debbie Wasserman Schultz to head up the DNC and as a result the DNC had tilted the scales of the process against Bernie Sanders”.

What about Donald Trump? What is going to happen?
“If the question is how I personally feel about the situation, I am mixed: Hillary Clinton and the network around her imprisoned one of our alleged sources for 35 years, Chelsea Manning, tortured her according to the United Nations, in order to implicate me personally. According to our publications Hillary Clinton was the chief proponent and the architect of the war against Libya. It is clear that she pursued this war as a staging effort for her Presidential bid. It wasn’t even a war for an ideological purpose. This war ended up producing the refugee crisis in Europe, changing the political colour of Europe, killing more than 40,000 people within a year in Libya, while the arms from Libya went to Mali and other places, boosting or causing civil wars, including the Syrian catastrophe. If someone and their network behave like that, then there are consequences. Internal and external opponents are generated. Now there is a separate question on what Donald Trump means”.

What do you think he means?
“Hillary Clinton’s election would have been a consolidation of power in the existing ruling class of the United States. Donald Trump is not a DC insider, he is part of the wealthy ruling elite of the United States, and he is gathering around him a spectrum of other rich people and several idiosyncratic personalities. They do not by themselves form an existing structure, so it is a weak structure which is displacing and destabilising the pre-existing central power network within DC. It is a new patronage structure which will evolve rapidly, but at the moment its looseness means there are opportunities for change in the United States: change for the worse and change for the better”.

In these ten years of WikiLeaks, you and your organisation have experienced all sorts of attacks. What have you learned from this warfare?
“Power is mostly the illusion of power. The Pentagon demanded we destroy our publications. We kept publishing. Clinton denounced us and said we were an attack on the entire “international community”. We kept publishing. I was put in prison and under house arrest. We kept publishing. We went head to head with the NSA getting Edward Snowden out of Hong Kong, we won and got him asylum. Clinton tried to destroy us and was herself destroyed. Elephants, it seems, can be brought down with string. Perhaps there are no elephants”.

While there is potential for significant harm under Donald Trump, bringing down such a tremendous force for evil on the world stage such as Hillary Clinton would be a great victory.  While the revelations from Wikileaks were damaging to Clinton, it is not clear how much they actually affected the election. They primarily acted to verify criticism already being made of Clinton by Sanders supporters and her opponents on the left.

Having Wikileaks as a major news story in October was probably harmful in that this centered much of the discussion in the final days of the election on Clinton’s flaws as opposed to Donald Trump’s flaws. The polls seemed to show signs of limited memory on the part of many voters as Clinton’s lead seemed to grow or diminish based upon which candidate was receiving the most coverage. With Donald Trump staying quieter in the final days of the campaign, it did probably hurt Clinton to have her flaws dominate the news between the Wikileaks revelations, along with further discussion of the FBI investigation of her email.

FiveThirtyEight.com tried to objectively measure the degree of damage done to Clinton by Wikileaks but the answer is not clear to them either:

There just isn’t a clean-cut story in the data. For instance, you might have expected a decline in the percentage of Americans who trusted Clinton after Wikileaks began its releases. As Politico’s Ken Vogel pointed out in mid-October, both Trump campaign officials and even progressives said the Wikileaks emails revealed that Clinton would be “compromised” if she became president. But the percentage of Americans who found Clinton to be honest or trustworthy stayed at around 30 percent in polling throughout October and into November.

The evidence that Wikileaks had an impact, therefore, is circumstantial. Trump, for instance, won among voters who decided who to vote for in October 51 percent to 37 percent, according to national exit polls. That’s Trump’s best time period. He carried voters who decided in the final week, when you might expect Comey’s letter to have had the largest impact, 45 percent to 42 percent. (Although, Trump’s margin among those who decided in the final week was wider in the exit polls in some crucial swing states.) And while Clinton’s lead was dropping in the FiveThirtyEight polls-only forecast before the Comey letter was released, the drop accelerated slightly afterward.

Of course, one thing didn’t sink Clinton. The evidence suggests Wikileaks is among the factors that might have contributed to her loss, but we really can’t say much more than that.

Julian Assange also discussed other topics. Among the most interesting was the status of opposition voices in Russia:

“In Russia, there are many vibrant publications, online blogs, and Kremlin critics such as [Alexey] Navalny are part of that spectrum. There are also newspapers like “Novaya Gazeta”, in which different parts of society in Moscow are permitted to critique each other and it is tolerated, generally, because it isn’t a big TV channel that might have a mass popular effect, its audience is educated people in Moscow. So my interpretation is that in Russia there are competitors to WikiLeaks, and no WikiLeaks staff speak Russian, so for a strong culture which has its own language, you have to be seen as a local player. WikiLeaks is a predominantly English-speaking organisation with a website predominantly in English. We have published more than 800,000 documents about or referencing Russia and president Putin, so we do have quite a bit of coverage, but the majority of our publications come from Western sources, though not always. For example, we have published more than 2 million documents from Syria, including Bashar al-Assad personally. Sometimes we make a publication about a country and they will see WikiLeaks as a player within that country, like with Timor East and Kenya. The real determinant is how distant that culture is from English. Chinese culture is quite far away”.

The Guardian, in its coverage of this interview, did point out how bleak the situation is in Russia:

Dozens of journalists have been killed in Russia in the past two decades, and Freedom House considers the Russian press to be “not free” and notes: “The main national news agenda is firmly controlled by the Kremlin. The government sets editorial policy at state-owned television stations, which dominate the media landscape and generate propagandistic content.”

Civil Liberties Groups Urge Obama To Curtail Government Surveillance Following Trump Victory

trump-constitution

After the revelations of NSA surveillance my concern, along with others such as Daniel Ellsberg, was not that we were already in an Orwellian totalitarian state, but that the infrastructure for a police state was being developed. In 2013 Ellsberg warned:

Obviously, the United States is not now a police state. But given the extent of this invasion of people’s privacy, we do have the full electronic and legislative infrastructure of such a state. If, for instance, there was now a war that led to a large-scale anti-war movement – like the one we had against the war in Vietnam – or, more likely, if we suffered one more attack on the scale of 9/11, I fear for our democracy. These powers are extremely dangerous.

Civil libertarians now fear another development which risks the progression to a police state–the election of Donald Trump. Even those who trusted Obama with these powers recognize the dangers of abuse under Trump. Politico reports:

Tech and civil liberties advocates are imploring the Obama administration to rein in the government’s massive surveillance apparatus before President-elect Donald Trump takes office, fearful he will carry out his campaign promises to register Muslims, spy on mosques and punish companies that offer Americans unbreakable encryption.

But many national security experts and former administration officials say the effort is almost certainly doomed to fail. “I don’t know how you tie the king’s hands in just the weeks going out,” said Michael McFaul, a former ambassador to Russia under President Barack Obama.

And some civil libertarians blame Democrats for being too content to allow President Barack Obama to wield the sweeping, post-Sept. 11 surveillance powers he inherited from George W. Bush, rather than rolling them back so that no future president could use them.

“We shouldn’t be relying on the benevolence of the leaders put in power after an election to ensure that people’s privacy and civil liberties are protected,” said Neema Singh Guliani, a legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union.

“You have a situation where the executive branch has control of a surveillance apparatus that is unparalleled in history,” said Trevor Timm, a surveillance critic and head of the activist group Freedom of the Press Foundation. “And because the Obama administration either retained the right to use a lot of these unprecedented powers, or expanded them, they are now in the hands of somebody who many people consider to be a madman.”

…Hoping to head Trump off, civil liberties, digital rights and watchdog groups are pleading with Obama to take a series of actions to weaken the surveillance state. Those include releasing classified inspector general reports and the secret legal rationales behind the government’s spying efforts, which could help advocates challenge Trump in court. Some also urged Obama’s team to purge the NSA’s databases of some of the information they hoover up, wiping out reams of data that are focused on foreigners but incidentally drag in details on an unknown number of Americans.

Thirty advocacy groups banded together this week in a letter telling Obama to take action, writing: “No less than our shared legacy of a vibrant democratic government is at stake.”

…Obama came into office vowing to “revisit” many of these powers, but privacy advocates believe he has largely failed to do so. While the president has regularly spoken about the need for greater checks and public oversight of the system, he has defended the powers themselves.

“This may go down in history as President Obama’s most consequential mistake,” Timm said.

Civil libertarians have been concerned about the danger of abuses under Donald Trump, but the degree of government surveillance placed civil liberties at risk regardless of whether Trump was elected. Other than for Trump’s xenophobia, Hillary Clinton’s views on civil liberties and the surveillance state are not all that different from those of Donald Trump.

There is one benefit to Trump as opposed to Clinton winning–Democrats will be far more likely to protest abuses under Trump than they would protest abuses from Clinton. Many partisan Democrats have been whitewashing her record and excusing her extremely conservative views on First Amendment rights. Those of us who protested the growth of the surveillance state under both Bush and Obama were often ignored by Democrats when Obama was president and they thought he would be succeeded by Clinton. The election of Donald Trump is opening more eyes to the danger of such powers in the hands of the president.

How About A More Meaningful Pardon–Ed Snowden

obama-pardon-turkey

Barack Obama has fulfilled the tradition of pardoning a turkey for Thanksgiving. Before he leaves office he should make a more meaningful pardon and honor the American tradition of individual liberty and privacy. Pardon Edward Snowden.

Edward Snowden Calls On Obama To Pardon Him; Jill Stein Supports Request

snowden

Edward Snowden expressed hope that Obama would pardon him before leaving office in an interview with The Guardian:

Speaking on Monday via a video link from Moscow, where he is in exile, Snowden said any evaluation of the consequences of his leak of tens of thousands of National Security Agency and GCHQ documents in 2013 would show clearly that people had benefited.

“Yes, there are laws on the books that say one thing, but that is perhaps why the pardon power exists – for the exceptions, for the things that may seem unlawful in letters on a page but when we look at them morally, when we look at them ethically, when we look at the results, it seems these were necessary things, these were vital things,” he said.

“I think when people look at the calculations of benefit, it is clear that in the wake of 2013 the laws of our nation changed. The [US] Congress, the courts and the president all changed their policies as a result of these disclosures. At the same time there has never been any public evidence that any individual came to harm as a result.”

Although US presidents have granted some surprising pardons when leaving office, the chances of Obama doing so seem remote, even though before he entered the White House he was a constitutional lawyer who often made the case for privacy and had warned about the dangers of mass surveillance.

Obama’s former attorney general Eric Holder, however, gave an unexpected boost to the campaign for a pardon in May when he said Snowden had performed a public service.

The campaign could receive a further lift from Oliver Stone’s film, Snowden, scheduled for release in the US on Friday. Over the weekend the director said he hoped the film would help shift opinion behind the whistleblower, and added his voice to the plea for a pardon.

His chances are  not very good, with the Obama administration having a very strict policy towards prosecution in whistle blowing cases. This includes using the Espionage Act more than all previous administrations combined to prosecute those who have leaked information to the press.

Of course the Obama administration’s zeal with regards to protecting classified information did not apply to Hillary Clinton being “extremely careless” with classified information as Secretary of State.

While it is not very likely that Obame will pardon Snowden, his chances are dramatically lower once the next president takes office. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are extremely conservative on civil liberties and are not likely to pardon him. John Cassidy of The New Yorker pointed out that, “From a civil-liberties perspective—and a factual perspective—Clinton’s answers were disturbing” when she was asked about Snowden in a Democratic debate last October. PoltiFact also called her statements about Snowden Mostly False.  Donald Trump has referred to Snowden as a traitor.

Snowden’s chances would be much better if one of the third party candidates had a chance to win. Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson was equivocal on applying libertarianism here, having said he would consider pardoning him. Green Party Jill Stein has been calling for a pardon for Snowden for quite a while, and has an op-ed in The Guardian repeating this view. She concluded:

Federal judges ruled that such massive collection of citizens’ metadata without any connection to a particular investigation was patently illegal, essentially vindicating Snowden. His goal was to tell the truth about the government spying on all of us, and to create public and judicial pressure on the government to create real changes in the way things are done and to stop the trajectory towards a surveillance state.

Snowden’s whistleblowing was among the most important in US history. It showed us that the relationship between the people of the United States and the government has gone off track and needs a major course correction.

The fourth amendment of the constitution provides that a court must find probable cause that an individual has committed a crime before issuing a warrant, and forbids systematic spying on the American people. The requirement of individualized suspicion should prohibit this type of dragnet surveillance. Spying on whole populations is not necessary, and is actually counterproductive.

If elected president I will immediately pardon Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and John Kiriakou for their important work in exposing the massive, systematic violation of our constitutional rights. I would invite them to the White House to publicly acknowledge their heroism, and create a role for them in the Stein-Baraka Green party administration to help us create a modern framework that protects personal privacy while still conducting effective investigations where warranted.

The American people have a right to privacy. My hope is that Obama uses his power to pardon Snowden now. The debate he began must be continued so we find a resolution that protects the freedom of press, association, religion and speech as well as the privacy of people in the United States and around the world.

Records Released Through FOIA Request Back Up Snowden Against NSA Attacks

Edward Snowden We The People

Defenders of NSA surveillance have tried to discredit Edward Snowden by claiming he there were official channels he could have gone through, and denied that Snowden had made such attempts. Email received through a Freedom of Information Act request from VICE News verify that Snowden had attempted to tell the NSA about the illegal surveillance being conducted:

Snowden’s leaks had first come to light the previous June, when the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald and the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman published stories based on highly classified documents provided to them by the former NSA contractor. Now Snowden, who had been demonized by the NSA and the Obama administration for the past year, was publicly claiming something that set off alarm bells at the agency: Before he leaked the documents, Snowden said, he had repeatedly attempted to raise his concerns inside the NSA about its surveillance of US citizens — and the agency had done nothing.

Some on the email thread, such as Rajesh De, the NSA’s general counsel, advocated for the public release of a Snowden email from April 2013 in which the former NSA contractor asked questions about the “interpretation of legal authorities” related to the agency’s surveillance programs. It was the only evidence the agency found that even came close to verifying Snowden’s assertions, and De believed it was weak enough to call Snowden’s credibility into question and put the NSA in the clear.

Litt disagreed. “I’m not sure that releasing the email will necessarily prove him a liar,” Litt wrote to Caitlin Hayden, then the White House National Security Council spokesperson, along with De and other officials. “It is, I could argue, technically true that [Snowden’s] email… ‘rais[ed] concerns about the NSA’s interpretation of its legal authorities.’ As I recall, the email essentially questions a document that Snowden interpreted as claiming that Executive Orders were on a par with statutes. While that is surely not raising the kind of questions that Snowden is trying to suggest he raised, neither does it seem to me that that email is a home run refutation.”

Within two hours, however, Litt reversed his position, and later that day, the email was released, accompanied by comment from NSA spokesperson Marci Green Miller: “The email did not raise allegations or concerns about wrongdoing or abuse.”

Five days later, another email was sent — this one addressed to NSA director Mike Rogers and copied to 31 other people and one listserv. In it, a senior NSA official apologized to Rogers for not providing him and others with all the details about Snowden’s communications with NSA officials regarding his concerns over surveillance.

The NSA, it seemed, had not told the public the whole story about Snowden’s contacts with oversight authorities before he became the most celebrated and vilified whistleblower in US history.

Hundreds of internal NSA documents, declassified and released to VICE News in response to our long-running Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, reveal now for the first time that not only was the truth about the “single email” more complex and nuanced than the NSA disclosed to the public, but that Snowden had a face-to-face interaction with one of the people involved in responding to that email. The documents, made up of emails, talking points, and various records — many of them heavily redacted — contain insight into the NSA’s interaction with the media, new details about Snowden’s work, and an extraordinary behind-the-scenes look at the efforts by the NSA, the White House, and US Senator Dianne Feinstein to discredit Snowden.

The trove of more than 800 pages [pdf at the end of this story], along with several interviews conducted by VICE News, offer unprecedented insight into the NSA during this time of crisis within the agency. And they call into question aspects of the US government’s long-running narrative about Snowden’s time at the NSA.

There is considerably more information in the remainder of the article and attached pdf.

The Freedom of Information Act is a valuable means to find out the truth as to what the government is doing. There is a reason for the open-government laws which Hillary Clinton violated when Secretary of State.

Senate Bill Allows FBI To Obtain Email Without Warrant

bill of rights

First we found, thanks to Edward Snowden, that the NSA was collecting mass amounts of metadata on email. Some discounted this, downplaying the significance of metadata. Hillary Clinton has called for more government surveillance to fight terror. It looks like her wish will come true. The Senate Intelligence Committee approved a bill which would allow the FBI to obtain email without a warrant. CNET reports:

The 2017 Intelligence Authorization Act, if enacted into law, would let the FBI obtain email records without a court order. All the agency would need is a National Security Letter, which lets the FBI get information from companies about their customers without alerting the person being investigated. Currently, the FBI can access phone records that way, but not emails…

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Tuesday in a joint statement that the 2017 Intelligence Authorization Act makes it easier for the government to keep Americans safe.

It is not surprising that conservative Democrat Dianne Feinstein would approve of this, but certainly there must be other Democrats who would protest this if there really is still a difference between the parties. One, and only one, Democrat objected. Ron Wyden released this statement:

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today voted against the 2017 Intelligence Authorization Act in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The bill includes provisions to expand warrantless government surveillance and takes aim at a valuable independent oversight board.

“This bill takes a hatchet to important protections for Americans’ liberty,” Wyden said following the vote. “This bill would mean more government surveillance of Americans, less due process and less independent oversight of U.S. intelligence agencies. Worse, neither the intelligence agencies, nor the bill’s sponsors have shown any evidence that these changes would do anything to make Americans more secure. I plan to work with colleagues in both chambers to reverse these dangerous provisions.”

Wyden opposes multiple provisions to the bill, including;

-Allowing the FBI to obtain Americans’ email records with only a National Security Letter. Currently, the FBI can obtain email records in national security investigations with an order from the FISA Court. The bill would allow any FBI field office to demand email records without a court order, a major expansion of federal surveillance powers. The FBI can currently obtain phone records with a National Security Letter, but not email records.

-Narrowing the jurisdiction of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), for the second consecutive year. The bill would limit the PCLOB to examining only programs that impact the privacy rights of U.S. citizens.  Wyden has supported the PCLOB’s focus on the rights of US persons.  Wyden opposed this provision, however, since global telecommunications networks can make it difficult to determine who is an American citizen, and this provision could discourage oversight of programs when the impact on Americans’ rights is unclear. Furthermore, continually restricting a small, independent oversight board sends the message that the board shouldn’t do its job too well.

The bill does include one proposal from Wyden, which would allow the PCLOB to hire staff even when the board’s Chair is vacant. Currently the PCLOB is prohibited from hiring staff unless a Senate-confirmed Chair is in place.  This proposal is also included in separate bipartisan legislation introduced by Wyden and Representative Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii.  PCLOB Chairman David Medine is scheduled to step down on July 1.

The Intercept has further background information on the bill.

Of the current presidential candidates, only Bernie Sanders has stood up for civil liberties. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have similar views supporting restrictions on civil liberties to fight terrorism. I am not aware of any statements from the candidates specifically on this bill, but actions such as this from Congress demonstrate the need for Sanders, as opposed to Clinton or Trump, to have the veto pen in the White House.